Chapter 108: Most likely suspect Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
Next morning, Steward Xia delivered a pile of tea before Mu Qingwu arrived, including plenty of spring tea and some autumn and winter teas. They were all the freshest picks. Who said the ancients lacked food preservation skills? Gazing at the spread before her, Han Yunxi sighed with emotion. From the past to present, silver had always helped people accomplish things.
Looking over the tins of fragrant tea, she didn't even both with breakfast before diving into the study for experiments. Like before, she divided the tea into categories and isolated the tea leaves in water. She even did multiple experiments just with green tea, but unfortunately, had pitiful results.
Once again, each sample had failed to successfully conceal the poison. There was no pleasant surprise at all. She grouped them into categories based on drying times, then growing season, but that didn't work either. Han Yunxi walked out of the study with her head hanging, feeling somewhat unlucky. Did she suspect the wrong thing, or overlook some other detail?
Places of production?
Could that be it?
Besides different curing methods, and harvest times, the only difference between teas would be their place of production. A renewed Han Yunxi suddenly grew alert. Perhaps they'd get results from the Celestial Fragrance Teashop today!
"Esteemed wangfei, it's time to take your meal," Zhao mama reminded her. Only then did Han Yunxi come back to reality. She had just sat down when Zhao mama said, "His Highness woke up a long time ago, he's steeping tea in the courtyard."
The hand holding her chopsticks quivered, but only for a second. Han Yunxi had no other reaction. Zhao mama gave her a long look before saying faintly, "His Highness's favorite tea is Red South Peak from the Celestial Fragrance Teashop."
Han Yunxi still kept silent as she minded her own business and ate as if she didn't hear a thing. When she was full and saw that Zhao mama had left, she walked out to the courtyard and looked around. Unfortunately, there was no sign of her servant until Zhao mama suddenly appeared behind her back with a smile.
Scared out of her wits like a thief caught in the act, Han Yunxi spun around with a huff. "What are you doing?!"
Zhao mama was quite maligned as she spoke timidly. "One of the outside attendants came to report that the young general's waiting for you at the back door."
Only then did Han Yunxi's temper quell as she hurriedly hopped away...
Mu Qingwu discovered that Han Yunxi's foot was injured when he saw her limping over. "Esteemed wangfei, what happened to your foot?"
Actually, Han Yunxi was perfectly capable of walking normally now, but she was wary of the aftermath of her sprain and didn't dare add weight to her foot, thus the limping. She hopped onto the carriage. "Just a sprain, it's fine."
"Esteemed wangfei, we can change a date to go. Your foot..." Though 'delicate and frail' weren't words used to describe this woman, Mu Qingwu was still hesitant.
"It's fine. Let's hurry on our way, there's not many days left. I don't want to lose," Han Yunxi reminded with a smile. Counting today, there were only 12 days left in her bet with Mu Liuyue.
Mu Qingwu didn't know how to reply. He could only climb onto the carriage, though he sat on the bench outside next to the driver instead of inside with Han Yunxi. She was about to invite him in when she remembered Long Feiye's warning from yesterday and gave up on the idea. Long Feiye might be a traditionalist, but in this world both unmarried girls and attached wives had to examine their self-conduct. If they didn't hold themselves in check and someone latched onto their shortcomings, it'd be another whole mess of troubles.
It was still early when they arrived at Celestial Fragrance Plantation, so there weren't many customers. This teashop was surrounded on three sides by mountains that cultivated tea leaves. In front of the building was a small brook, and the overall surroundings made for a fine and exquisite landscape. The teashop occupied an extremely large area that included over 30 courtyards. They even had their own hot springs in the southwest corner.
Leaving aside the cost it took to construct this plantation, just the price of the land on the outskirts of the capital had to be worth several cities. Rumors had it that the owner of the Celestial Fragrance Teashop was an extremely low-profile person who moved in mysterious ways. That person had wealth equivalent to that of an entire nation, but up until now, none of the customers had ever seen him or knew who he was.
Mu Qingwu had made a reservation ahead of time, so when the young servants saw the general's carriage approach, they neither dared to obstruct or slight them, but immediately led the carriage to a private courtyard. This courtyard was called the Spring Rain Courtyard, which Mu Liuyue frequently reserved for herself. As it just so happened, she hadn't come by today.
When Han Yunxi alighted, she was immediately enthralled by her surroundings. This standalone courtyard was enclosed and very private, surrounded by four high walls and full-blown flowers. A tea table and chairs had been set up amidst the flowers, and the scent of incense smoke trailed up into the air as it reached their noses.
"Esteemed wangfei, take care." Mu Qingwu signaled with a glance, and two female servants came forward to support her by the arm, though Han Yunxi said there was no need.
She limped and hobbled along the stone path until she reached the flowers, crossing her legs to sit by the tea stall. If she didn't have business to attend to, how nice it'd be to stay here a few days and thoroughly relax! If this place existed in the present, then it'd be the highest of high-ranked conference halls, suitable for holding meetings, confidential talks, or even lovers' trysts.
"It looks like esteemed wangfei really likes it here," Mu Qingwu said as he sat down.
"If we had a pot of good tea, it'd be even better," Han Yunxi said playfully.
They'd come today for two reasons: 1) to examine this teashop and 2) to inquire into Mu Liuyue's tea drinking habits and her meetings with friends. Han Yunxi absolutely believed that Mu Liuyue wouldn't hurt her big brother. If someone was using her to put Ten-Thousand Snake Poison in the tea leaves, then the tea either had to come from the Celestial Fragrance Teashop or one of her companions.
All Celestial Fragrance Teashop teas had labels on the tins, so it'd be too obvious if the poisoner placed the toxin there. An assassin wouldn't be so stupid. Han Yunxi was more suspicious of Mu Liuyue's friends. If one of their gifted teas were poisonous, then it'd have to be someone who gave them as frequent gifts. From time immemorial, gifting had always been a perfectly normal thing. But gifts weren't given without reason, nor were they accepted without reason. Mu Liuyue was an extravagant young Miss who ate, wore, and used freely. She wasn't covetous enough to hanker after a few tins of tea. For her to frequently accept such tea as gifts, there had to be an underlying reason.
Either the tea leaves were exceptionally good, enough to fit Mu Liuyue's tastes, or the person gifting the teas was on excellent terms with Mu Liuyue in terms of studying tea. Mu Liuyue didn't just come to the Celestial Fragrance plantation to buy tea, but to meet with friends and drink tea. Of course, Han Yunxi had to search all of Celestial Fragrance first.
Mu Qingwu ordered some green tea, and the servant served it in a highly professional method: rinsing, getting, infusing, steeping, tasting, pouring, clearing in an exquisite manner befitting the Way of Tea.
Han Yunxi tasted a few cups before asking, "Are all these teas grown by the teashop?"
"To reply esteemed wangfei, all of the teas from the teashop are from the three tea-cultivating mountains behind us. It was the owner that created them. But guests can bring their own tea here as well," the servant replied.
Han Yunxi seemed lost in thought as she nodded her head, and asked again, "Young Miss Mu brings her own tea frequently, right?"
At this, the servant girl didn't reply immediately, but looked as if she felt things were awkward. Each private courtyard in the Celestial Fragrance Teashop had its own assigned tea servants. Many of the courtyards were reserved throughout the year by regular guests, so that these tea servants had become private servants exclusive to their regulars. If not for Mu Qingwu today, Han Yunxi might not have even made it inside this Spring Rain Courtyard. As the tea servants served their guests this way and that, they heard and saw many things. One of their most important jobs was to safeguard their guests' secrets.
"Feel free to thoroughly answer esteemed wangfei's questions. I've already left a word with your supervisors," Mu Qingwu said lightly.
Asking Mu Liuyue herself was the best way to investigate, but Mu Qingwu was very clear on his little sister's temper. It was better not to ask her at all, because if they did, she wouldn't necessarily speak the truth. Instead, she'd make up lies and interfere with the investigation. Thus, he could only bring esteemed wangfei to Celestial Fragrance to check in.
Mu Qingwu was still Mu Liuyue's older brother, and his words greatly relieved the tea servant. Immediately she said, "To reply esteemed wangfei, eldest young Miss Mu never brings her own tea when she comes. When she comes along, she drinks tea from the plantation; when she comes with friends, it's usually the friend bringing the tea."
Both Han Yunxi and Mu Qingwu grew alert at these words. Without a doubt, this situation was in accordance with their conjectures.
"Who does eldest young Miss drink tea often with?" Mu Qingwu hastened to ask.
The tea servant thought for a bit before answering. "There's a few frequent visitors. Princess Changping, the Third Young Miss from the chancellor's family, the eldest young Miss from the high military official's estate, Lin Family's Seventh Young Miss, Han Family's Second Young Miss..." the tea servant rattled off a whole slew of names, even astonishing Mu Qingwu. He didn't expect his little sister had such a wide circle of friends.
When the tea servant reached the end, she added one more thing. "Eldest young Miss met most recently with the Han Family's Second Young Miss."
"Which Han Family?" Han Yunxi couldn't resist asking. Though the only Han Family capable of forming connections with Mu Liuyue in the capital would be her own, she still had to make sure.
"The Han medical family, esteemed wangfei's parents' family," the tea servant replied in a low voice.
Han Family's Second Young Miss, Madame Li's daughter Han Ruoxue?
Hesitation flickered in Han Yunxi's eyes. Her suspicions on Madame Li had just grew, but she remained calm. After all, everything was just conjecture and she'd yet to find solid proof. If she made Madame Li her target now, she might miss other possible clues and find the wrong suspect. Han Yunxi had never investigated a case before, but she thought it had to be similar with conducting a diagnosis. You couldn't form subjective assumptions because many diseases were very similar. You had to eliminate possibilities one-by-one until the disease was clear-cut and well-defined. Otherwise, you'd only misdiagnose a patient and harm them.
Han Yunxi didn't say any more, but the Mu Qingwu who was completely ignorant of the suspicions around Madame Li was much more impartial. He asked, "Among these people, who drinks tea with eldest young miss the most often?"
The tea servant thought a bit before shaking her head. "Your servant hasn't kept track of that specifically. The various young Misses all come by frequently, so your servant doesn't have a clear recollection."
"Then who gifts the most tea?" Mu Qingwu asked again.
This time, the tea servant didn't even have to think before replying, "Han Family's Second Young Miss."
Hearing this, Han Yunxi's heart skipped a beat as she was suddenly hit with a bad premonition. Mu Qingwu didn't immediately follow up with his questions, but glanced at Han Yunxi with a complex look. The Han Family's Second Young Miss was from esteemed wangfei's family, her younger sister who shared the same father but different mothers. If Han Ruoxue was the culprit, then the Han Family would drown in the ruin!
"Think it over carefully, is there anyone else?" Mu Qingwu asked seriously.
"The chancellor and the high military official's two young Misses also frequently give eldest young miss tea, but not as often as Han Family's Second Young Miss. Miss Han seems to gift some every single time, Eldest Young Miss Mu likes Secound Young Miss Han's tea." the servant replied, thinking awhile before adding, "Over the past two to three years, Second Young Miss Han has definitely given the most tea, especially last year. She'd gift one every two months."
With these words, Mu Qingwu fell silent and asked no more.
Without a doubt, Han Ruoxue was the most likely suspect!
 Spring Rain Courtyard () - xinyu yuan, literally 'new rain courtyard.' Xinyu could refer to newly fallen rain or, in a more poetic sense, rain in early spring. Artistic license was taken with this name. 🙂